Is This The Best We Can Do?

Former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden participate in the first presidential debate of the 2024 elections at CNN's studios in Atlanta, Georgia, on June 27.
Former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden participate in the first presidential debate of the 2024 elections at CNN's studios in Atlanta, Georgia, on June 27. Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Watchingthefirst presidential debate of election season last week was a harrowing experience for many of us. It felt like a reality TV reunion show — one with equal parts foolishness and audacity, just for the ratings.

Trump’s boldfaced lies plus Biden’s struggle to effectively communicate his points (or effectively shut Trump down) resulted in several now-viral cringey moments that matched the sheer chaos of a Mona Scott production. Is this real life? I wondered. My angst about the upcoming election swelled.

If anything, the debate was a reflection of a two-party political system that just isn’t working. Biden and Trump are two (physically, mentally and spiritually) old white men fighting for the most powerful seat in the world, and they don’t seem to be connected to us at all. This simply cannot be what we call American politics anymore.

As a young Black voter, I know I’m not alone in wanting to move away from a political landscape that demands we commit to the “lesser of two evils” — especially since living through the blatant criminality involved in a Donald Trump presidency followed by a Joe Biden presidency where we feel completely unheard on crucial issues, like the war in Gaza.

Young Black and Latinx voters account for a huge voter bloc trying to navigate an election where we are broadly not drawn to candidates from either major party. According to a recent Pew research, about 49% of Black voters currently say they would replace both Biden and Trump in the general election if they had the ability to. A considerable number of those dissatisfied voters are Black voters under 40. Young Latinxvoters also account for a large population of voters who are dissatisfied with both candidates, which is raising alarms because they are one of the fastest growing groups of eligible voters.

At the very least both Trump and Biden have made us acutely aware of what we don’t want.

“I am honestly very dismayed. The last four years have made me realize that both parties, Democratic and Republican, are just two sides of the same coin,” says Jessenia Duran, a 31-year-old Latina voter from Brooklyn. “The 2020 election really solidified that for me. The pandemic wasn’t handled well — nor were the last four years.”

Duran’s biggest concerns are the rollback of women’s rights, lack of urgency around climate change, and the U.S. involvement in the violence against Palestinians.

Our collective discontent feels directly related to our nation’s extreme political polarization and persistence of white supremacist structures. One powerful way to disrupt these is to vote for someone who’s fighting for our interests. The problem is, when we have to choose between two politicians who simply don’t reflect our beliefs, it makes it harder for some people to step into that voting booth.

“I feel disgusted and disappointed. I felt the same way about both candidates in the 2020 election, although somehow Biden appeared to be the better option over Trump four years ago. Now I see both as despicable options,” says Ashley Bradshaw, a 30-year-old set designer from New York. She expresses her exhaustion watching lawmakers routinely ignoring the struggles of marginalized people.

“I’ve started losing trust in a political system that isn’t interested in my well being. I’m heavily involved in my community, primarily through mutual aid groups, community education initiatives, and being involved with the immigrant community that I grew up in,” says 24-year-old Hugo Gonzalez, who also cites his frustrations about this administration’s treatment of migrants and rise in deportations.

My peers are intent on building safer and more sustainable for the next generation — and that feels especially challenging when we don’t feel we’re part of the political conversation at large. As much as we would like to separate our identities from our politics, the entanglement of these two constructs is historic.

A quick look into U.S. history will reveal the way identity was used to limit a person’s ability to engage in politics. The 1857 Dred Scott Supreme Court ruling legally delegated Black enslaved people as property and, therefore, not protected by the law nor eligible to vote. And though the 13th and 14th Amendments overturned this ruling, Black, Latino and Indigenous women struggled to fully gain the right to vote until as late as the 1960s. Beyond this history, systemic racism makes it so that Black and Latino Americans continue to struggle to exercise their right to vote to this day.

As marginalized people, knowing this history makes voting a practice many of us want to honor. But politicians who ignore calls for domestic and foreign policies that prioritize human life over power and profits make voting for our next president feel like a futile effort.

“George Washington, in his farewell address, advised against division, citing that if the U.S. were to ever fall, it would from the inside. In 2024, we are living through his warnings as we are more divided than ever,” says Jervelle Federick, a 30-year-old event planner and artist. “It is possible to have different ideas and opinions from others and still co-exist, and if our leaders can’t do that, it’s everyone’s responsibility.”